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Let’s go way back to the 60’s, to Ireland to be precise, where we found a couple of youngster musicians by the names of Philip Lynott and Brian Downey, both Dublin-born, playing together with several local acts whose names time forgot. Downey was sitting behind the drums, while Lynott used to take vocal duties only at the time, until he joined Gary Moore-led Irish group Skid Row, whose front-man and bass player Brush Shields gave him some bass lessons. Following his sacking from the band, he formed Orphanage, with Downey coming into the picture again but devoid of a guitar player. Eric Bell, formerly of Them and Shades Of Blue saw them one night on stage and was so impressed he quickly asked them if he could join the project, and got the job, along with his previous band organist Eric Wrixon, that they soon dropped. They signed with Decca and moved to the Mecca of British rock, London, where they recorded their homonym debut record, which saw the light of day in April 1971.
It is said that Lynott’s biggest influence in his early days as musician was folk, and that’s something tangible on most of these titles – think of “Honesty Is No Excuse”, which is deprived of electric strings, relying on acoustic textures and distant mellotrons instead, which accompany Phil’s heartbreaking circumlocution; or “Eire” and its even more stripped-down instrumentation consisting on acoustic guitar again and bare vocals, evocating Celtic imagination and middle-age landscapes sumptuously. Therefore instrumental section is generally minimalistic; something “Saga Of The Ageing Orphan” makes clearer, with foreground vocals being implemented by Bell’s murmuring phrasing and meek piano lines. Besides folk, the Irish power trio shows also a big devotion for old school blues and jazz, whose connotations are explicit on “Ray-Gun” more notably, on which the front-man’s vocal extravaganza and Downey’s unobtrusive groove set a casual mood. More blues roots to be found on “Look What The Wind Blew In” and “Return Of The Farmer’s Son”, this time based on propulsive guitar lines, at times incorporating riff-based gestures but mostly led by voice, arranged kinda rudimentarily and increasing the vivacity of tempos. The lengthy “Remembering” combines both decorous, ballady folk story-telling with energetic blues licks, molding the most puzzling performance on the album – making way for some palpably disjointed, exercise of improvisation, which underlines Bell’s messy pickin’ – he later admitted he couldn’t remember what he played on that overlong soloing fragment. But instrumental indulgence is in general kept to a minimum, when the driving factor on the tunes is Phil’s discourse – “Diddy Levine” exposes the fragility and non-sense of the front-man’s poor story-like at the time, while “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle” and “Clifton Grange Hotel” couldn’t make it more evident, relegating guitars and drums to complement the above-mentioned profuse verses, which nevertheless seem still bare of sense and significance, despite the passionate effort from Lynott.
No wonder Thin Lizzy made a poor impression on the London scene – they started off much more like a quiet, wistful Irish folk act with distant echoes from late-60’s acid rock, a sound which would more likely be eclipsed by the innovative sounds of the occultists from Aston, the American blues revival from Page or the Purplish progressive heaviness. Lynott & co. didn’t possess an own sound like that yet, so as expected the tunes are bare of so much direction and focus. No surprise that the congruity of the writing is nearly-inexistent, with a couple of exceptions – structures are configured disjointedly, while the reiteration of verses is too exhausting, inevitably making instrumental section languish in the background. Actually, the presence of Bell is almost imperceptible and utterly-inconspicuous overall, limiting himself to serve the vocals unconfidently, while the soloing remains too concise and ornamental. Most of the tracks could perfectly be thought of as a vehicle for Lynott’s lucidity and his then-primitive poetry, which fails to seduce and fascinate the listener on other hand, for his themes are mostly banal, anodyne. Furthermore, his singing and modulation at the time seemed pretty much to impersonate someone else’s style, sounding predominantly low-tuned and sort of insecure, devoid of character and warmth in comparison with later superb performances. At least, the guys can rely on Downey’s drum work with confidence, being rich, percussive and pushing on its execution during the record, yet at the same time undoubtedly limited to fulfill Phil’s vocal-based structures, not given the chance to shine as it should – so both Bell and Downey’s technical potential is restrained in favor of the front-man’s often abusive leadership, with the exception of “Remembering” of course, on which inexperience and incapacity is indelibly exposed, though.
Thin Lizzy won’t be remembered as a cogent output at all, as it rather pales beside celebrated studio works yet to come from the band that put Irish music on the map. This is a portrait of 3 disconnected musicians in need of guidance, practice and touring, whose capacity as composers and performers is wasted and limited by unnecessary folk verbosity and nostalgic blues strategies, which kept the power trio not only from growing up as musicians, but from defining a distinguishing sound and character that would stand up against UK’s early-70’s hottest rock acts – it would take more than acoustic soft folk and overused blues tricks to do so…
I always thought Thin Lizzy was an odd choice for the Archives. Not that I dislike them or want to argue whether or not they are a metal band, but I always saw them as more of a hard rock band. It seems strange that they should be included and not, say, Uriah Heep. However, Thin Lizzy’s first album, along with most of their early work, is certainly not truly metal. However, it is a fun hard rock/rock album.
The album starts off with The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle, which has an almost psychedelic intro, then going into a more traditional early Thin Lizzy song. The Boys Are Back in Town this is not however. Phil Lynott’s vocals seem to do more driving the song than the instrumentals until the solos and actual instrumental parts. Most of this song, for instance, is made of a fairly simple bass line and a drum beat. There isn’t a lot of guitar until the singing actually ends. Honesty is No Excuse is mostly an acoustic guitar playing a handful of chords, another simple bass line, and the drums again. Although the music never strays far from how it starts, the song is still rather fun and interesting due to Lynott’s lyrics and singing.
For the most part, this is how a lot of the album sounds; acoustic songs, with some electric solos and parts, some good drumming and some decent enough but simple bass. But all the songs are given life by Lynott’s lyrics and vocals. Despite the fact Phil was never considered any kind of amazing stand out vocalist, his voice fits Thin Lizzy’s music great. Other high points of the album for me include Look What the Wind Blew In and the closer Remembering, Pt. 1.
The album is far from perfect though. Ray-Gun starts off with some almost Hendrix-like guitar riff, but aside from the interesting riff, was never a standout track for me. I don’t know why, I like the riff but it just can’t hold my attention well enough. Also, despite the fact I’m often a sucker for slow ballad-like tracks, I tend to just find Eire uninteresting, however it’s only about 2 minutes long, so it’s rather forgivable.
Any other songs not mentioned are generally decent. Not amazing nor are they terrible. All together this is a decent rock debut album. Not as good as their work to come, but if you’re a fan of Lynott’s voice or 70’s rock, it’s worth checking out. However, I can easily see this not being a favorite of people who people who want a more metal-styled Thin Lizzy. Which leaves me with a question on whether I should rate this a metal album, which it’s clearly not, or as a rock album, despite the fact it’s on a metal site. I think even though I enjoy this album as a hard rock album, I’m going to have to lower the score due to the fact that I can see a lot of metalheads not enjoying this particular Thin Lizzy album. I’d normally probably give it a 76-77%, due to it being a decent hard rock debut with a few weak tracks, but lowering it to about a 70% seems fair, all things considered.